By Sherouq Sadeqi
WASHINGTON, May 19 (KUNA) - U.S. President Donald Trump has a very busy agenda this month starting with a very important, much anticipated visit to Saudi Arabia, the first leg of his first foreign tour that is to also include Israel and the Vatican in an effort to bring the world religions together and boost global peace.
Trump is the first U.S. president since Jimmy Carter not to make his trip to either Mexico or Canada, where he chose his first stop to be the Middle East, whereas Carter went to Europe first. Trump has said he wants to go to Saudi Arabia first for a reason, as he "wants to help the fight against (IS) and other extremists." On his visit to Saudi Arabia, Trump said "I'll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism and embrace a peaceful future for their faith." "They're looking very much forward to hearing what we ... have to say. We have to stop radical Islamic terrorism," he stressed.
In an interview with KUNA, President of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) Marcelle Wahba said it is "very significant" that the first visit overseas is to a "non-traditional ally." She added that Trump's first trip overseas to Saudi Arabia to meet not only the Saudi leadership but also to meet with the GCC leaders "is very significant in that it makes it very clear what his priorities are on the foreign policy front." "He has clearly made the Middle East a very big priority. He has made it clear that this is a number one area that he is looking at in terms of countering terrorism and looking for an opportunity to expand our cooperation with allies in the region in countering the Islamic State (IS) and others like al-Qaeda," she affirmed.
She noted that another issue that will be clearly on the table is to look at ways of re-energizing efforts for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and hopefully reaching some initiatives in this regard.
She added that the third area is "to talk to the GCC leadership and also with the Saudi leadership on the issue of Iran and Iran's behavior in the region." Furthermore, she remarked that trade relations with all the GCC states are very strong so she believes that the topic of economic cooperation would also be on Trump's agenda especially that the Gulf States are "huge investors in the U.S." Wahba affirmed that Trump's trip goes hand in hand with the political priorities, saying "we live in a time where people want to see a more tolerant, open and global community because the threats are huge whether you're living the U.S. and even more so if you're living in the Middle East." According to a senior White House official, the reason why Trump chose to go to Saudi Arabia first is "because they are the Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques, and at that site, they will be convening a lot of the leaders from the Muslim world, where we will be having a dialogue about a lot of these issues, and hopefully agreeing on ways to do it." The official added that Trump "has said a lot of things that a lot of these leaders in that region agree with, and they all want to see a long-term stability to the region "so we want to unify the Arab world around these objectives." Meanwhile, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has affirmed recently that during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, "home to the two holiest sites in Islam," he will encourage "our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront" those from the so-called Islamic State (IS), to al-Qaeda, to Iran, to the Assad regime "who perpetuate chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond." He added that Trump "will lead the first steps toward a stronger, more capable and more robust security partnership with our Gulf Arab and Muslim partners." "He will develop a strong, respectful message that the United States and the entire civilized world expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stand against radical Islamist ideology, an ideology that uses a perverted interpretation of religion to justify crimes against all humanity," he stressed.
He added that Trump "will call on the Muslim leaders to promote a peaceful vision of Islam." Furthermore, a senior White House official said that the purpose of this meeting "is really to bring together all the different countries and all the different religions in the fight against intolerance, and to defeat radicalism."
The official noted that "this whole conversation started with the Saudis shortly after the (presidential) election. They approached us, wanting to start a new relationship with America. I think there's a lot of opportunities because of people excited to deal with the president." The official added that what Trump did was "he laid out his objectives for what he would like to try to see accomplished in the region. The different objectives he laid out for us was one is to come up with a long-term fix for radicalization. How do you fight the ideological battle for the long term?" "Two is how do we stop funding for terror and terror-related organizations and organizations that are radicalizing youth? Because you have to combat that," the official noted.
"The third is burden sharing, figuring out ways that we can get our partners in the region to do more. America's doing a lot in the region, has done a lot in the region, and I think our partners have the ability to do a lot more in the region," the official stressed.
For his part, Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told KUNA that Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia is "very significant as it is his first trip abroad to any place in the world and he has chosen Riyadh to be his first stop." "This indicates the significance that he holds for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. on one hand and between the GCC and Arab and Muslim countries on the other," he affirmed.
He added that "this is a historic conference, a historic opportunity that is being held for the first time at this level and we are looking forward and optimistic towards the result and outcome of this meeting." He noted "we hope to get out of this meeting a better understanding between Trump and the Muslim world regarding all issues affecting the Islamic countries." "We are grateful to the fact that we believe this administration has demonstrated keen awareness and sensitivity to the role Iran is taking in the region. We hope that awareness will be translated into a joint action to try to bring such interference to an end," he remarked.
In this regard, a senior White House official said "I think what we're seeing now is a very emboldened Iran. And as a result of that, you have a very unified set of countries throughout the Middle East. And this is really making them come to the table in a way that is unique, I think," where they will discuss issues "that they can uniquely address, certainly, in the Kingdom's case, as the custodian of the two holy mosques." U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be accompanying Trump on his travels to Saudi Arabia, in addition to Jerusalem, Rome and Brussels. (end) si.rk